It’s 5:30 a.m. in Santa Ana and the sun is just about ready to rise. So is a somewhat sleepy Hector Lopez.
Although Lopez won’t head into work for a while, he must get to the gym as soon as possible for morning training. Lopez knows he has a long day ahead of him, so he shakes off that tired feeling and climbs out of bed. He’s doing it for the kids.
Lopez, a longtime sales consultant with U.S. HealthWorks, spends his days making sales calls for the company’s three Orange County clinics, where he highlights services to potential patient groups and cheerfully maintains relationships with current customers.
He loves his day job and plays a key role in helping people understand how U.S. HealthWorks can be a valuable resource to businesses and individuals throughout Orange County.
But it may be Lopez’s role outside the office that actually helps people the most.
For the past 20 years, Lopez has volunteered time as head coach at TKO Youth Boxing Club in Santa Ana. The club, founded in 1994, was created for youth in tough neighborhoods to provide a positive influence that would steer them away from gangs, drugs and teen pregnancy.
Providing guidance in life and boxing skills to this group of kids comes relatively easy for Lopez, a former amateur boxer who became interested in coaching when he learned about the organization.
There’s no denying that this is a major commitment – one that he has in addition to a full-time job and being involved with his family. But Lopez is passionate about the cause and believes in it wholeheartedly.
“I really believe that if we give back, we’ll save these kids from the street,” Lopez said.
He is particularly grateful for the support of U.S. HealthWorks – an employer that encourages his volunteer work and has provided assistance to the gym. Some of his U.S. HealthWorks colleagues have volunteered at TKO events, and the company donated shirts for an upcoming bout Sept. 19.
TKO Youth Boxing currently trains 80 male and female boxers, all under the age of 21. Most of them never step into a ring for an official fight, but they learn invaluable lessons about working hard, setting goals and building character.
Of course, there are boxing success stories among some of the more talented and ambitious TKO boxers. One of those who has already earned considerable notoriety is Ronny Rios, an undefeated featherweight contender that Lopez has coached for 11 years.
Rios, who is 23-0 and a ranked Featherweight boxer, says he can’t imagine having anyone else as a coach.
“Hector and I make a great team. He’s always there when I need him, and he listens to what I have to say,” Rios said. “He’s the most straightforward person I’ve ever met – he tells it like it is.”
Rios, who won a Bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Trials (and came within two points of making the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Beijing), has had such a successful partnership with TKO Boxing and Lopez. Even as a professional, he continues to live in Santa Ana and train with Lopez at the neighborhood gym.
Not only does Lopez consider himself (and his fellow coaches) a coach to Rios and many other TKO youth, he often assumes the role of father figure and mentor as well.
“A lot of these kids talk to me more than they talk to their own parents sometimes,” explains Lopez.
Lopez’s dedication to the group has led to multiple appearances in the Olympic Trials, and there are current boxers on track for a possible berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
There’s also a short film about the boxing organization – “Center Street Rising” – that illustrates how the club has provided an alternative to dangerous gang life.
“We are very lucky and blessed to be doing this and making a difference,” Lopez said.
Though his days are packed from start to finish, Lopez never considers complaining or believing he has too much on his plate. TKO has a mission, and he is grateful to be part of it.
For more information, visit TKOboxing.org.